January 2008, Vol. 20, No.1


Green’ Leather Is ‘In’ This Season, Better for Water

Fashionistas after the latest in leather bags could soon have a “greener” selection to choose from. Scientists in India have modified the tanning process, making it far more environmentally friendly, according to a news release issued by the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI; London).

Raghava Rao and his team at the Central Leather Research Institute (Adyar, Chennai, India) have found that simply reversing the order of the tanning and post-tanning steps can drastically improve the process. By also promoting nonchemical-based pretanning methods, they have reduced the amount of chemicals released by 82% and achieved an energy savings of nearly 40%.

“The significance is tremendous in the context of environmental challenges being faced by the leather industry,” Rao said. Most importantly, SCI notes, no loss of the leather quality was observed when compared with conventional tanning methods.

A copy of the paper on “green” leather is available by contacting the SCI press office at press@soci.org.  

After Drought, Ponds ‘Keep Up With the Joneses’

An ecologist at Washington University (WU; St. Louis) has discovered that after ponds dry up through drought in a region, when they revive, the community of species in each pond tends to be similar to those in all the other ponds — like so many homes in suburban developments.

Jonathan M. Chase, WU associate professor of biology and director of the university’s Tyson Research Center, created 20 artificial ponds out of tanks that hold 1136 L (300 gal) of water. According to a WU news release, Chase made each pond community exactly the same in their environmental conditions but varied the timing in which he added many species to the community, especially dragonflies, water bugs, frogs, and even algae, which happily colonized the ponds on their own accord.

As the communities thrived, most of the ponds diverged from each other — some only had between 10% and 20% of species in common with other ponds, according to the release. This factor was due to stochasticity, or randomness — a plant introduced by a seed dropped by a duck, for instance.

But then Chase added the element of drought, normally random in nature, to half of the pond environments, WU reported.

“After the drought, the communities converged, and every community looked similar to each other,” Chase said. “It’s understandable that only certain kinds of species can stand the drought. When it comes to drought, there are wimpy species and hardy species. Several types of zooplankton, many water bugs, and some frogs are the hardy ones. A wimpy species, perhaps surprisingly, is the bullfrog. Their tadpoles require 2 years to grow, so they often don’t rebound very well from drought.”

The tough species are incumbents, which gives them an advantage when the ponds refill, the news release says. They can rebuff some of the new colonists. Niches get filled in the pond, and colonists trying to join the club either go elsewhere or die.

“Drought homogenizes the variance among communities,” Chase said. “It takes all these communities that used to be very different from each other and makes them very similar to each other. That’s a very much underappreciated part of biodiversity.”

Chase’s research was published in the Oct. 15 Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Chase’s results have implications for wetland mitigation projects, which are often required by law, the news release states. If 40 ha (100 ac) of wetlands have been taken out by agriculture or a mall development, those wetland hectares have to be created some place else, according to the news release. Ecologists are not sure exactly how to build functioning wetlands in the same way as the previous one, which had been assembled thousands of years ago. Chase’s findings, the release says, give researchers better clues about how to restore biodiversity at both local and regional scales.

For more information, contact Chase at jchase@wustl.edu, or see his Web page, www.biology.wustl.edu/faculty/chase/opening_page.htm.

GE To Supply China’s First-Ever Rainwater Recycling System

General Electric (GE; Fairfield, Conn.) is going to the Olympics. The company is providing multiple technologies for China’s first rainwater recycling system. This system will be located at the Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), the setting of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, according to a news release issued by the International Olympic Committee.

The National Stadium’s new rainwater recycling system will use underground pools that process up to 91 Mg (100 ton) of rainwater per hour, 73 Mg (80 ton) of which can be reused for landscaping, firefighting, and cleaning — a direct way to lower the stadium’s water consumption, according to the news release.

“These advanced water treatment technologies are part of a larger effort to help Beijing implement an environmentally sustainable water management solution during the games and beyond,” said Steve Bertamini, chairman and CEO of GE in Northeast Asia and China.

The Qinghe Wastewater Plant also will receive some GE technology in the form of filtering. In order to improve Beijing’s wastewater treatment capabilities, the plant has adopted technology that will filter more than 80,000 m3 of wastewater daily to be recycled to maintain landscaping during the Olympic Games.

This system, according to the news release, is designed to reduce costs and cut energy consumption by as much as 30% during the next 5 years.

To date, GE is involved in more than 335 transportation, security, energy, water, healthcare, and lighting projects related to the Beijing games. Projects include supplying filtration technology for drinking water at National Stadium, helping power the conference and hotel area, delivering energy-efficient turbines to the Olympic Central Area, and implementing solar-powered lighting at the Fengtai Softball Field.